25 Strange Cat Behaviors & What They Mean
If there’s anything that the 46.5 million American households with a cat know, it’s that their pets can be weird sometimes.1 They do things that are unexpected and outright irritating at times. However, they also endear themselves to us that we can’t help but love them. As perplexing as our felines can be, it’s essential to remember that our time with cats is relatively short when you compare it to dogs. Canines and humans started bonding between 20,000–40,000 years ago, whereas felines somewhat inexplicably chose to live and tolerate us roughly 9,500 years ago.2 Some cat behaviors may seem odd to us because they’re more in touch with their wild side.
The 25 Strange Cat Behaviors
1. Catnip Behavior
Felines and catnip go together like peas and carrots. However, not all species react the same as your cat. Bobcats, cougars, and tigers don’t enjoy it nearly as much as jaguars and lions. Some pets don’t respond to it at all. Nepetalactone is the chemical that makes your kitty roll around on the floor and act weird. It may even be beneficial since catnip repels mosquitoes better than DEET.
2. Wool Fetish
Some cats chew on unusual things. Others focus on particular objects or textures like wool. It could be a sign of an inherited obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) that just starts spontaneously.1 Other environmental factors, such as stress or changes in your household, may also trigger this behavior. Whatever the cause, our pets seem to enjoy themselves nibbling on our wool socks.
3. Staring at You
Sometimes, we feel like we’re getting the stare-down when our cats look intently at us without blinking. They don’t show signs of aggression, but it still seems strange. If you think about it, your pet may just be interested in you and what you’re doing. Otherwise, it’d leave and find something else to do. The feline’s frequency range for hearing far exceeds ours. Your cat may look like they’re staring, but they could just be listening to something you can’t detect.
4. Licking You
We know that dogs show affection by licking. Cats also do it for the same reason, and then some. Remember that felines spend a lot of time grooming themselves and their housemates. It’s a bonding ritual between animals. That can include humans, too. Your kitty may also lick you to mark you with its scent. They may offer your pet security to know that you belong to them.
It’s perhaps the most noticeable behavior on our list and one you probably only associate with cats. Scientists theorize kneading is a holdover from being a nursing kitten. It also is the sign of a content and happy feline. It may just feel good to your pet. Of course, it can be another way for your kitty to mark you as its own by leaving its scent on you.
6. Batting Things Off the Table
They don’t call cats curious for no reason. Everything is a toy for some pets, whether or not they’re appropriate. Some felines may knock things off the table and watch as they hit the floor. Others may do it intentionally to get your attention. We often notice this behavior when it gets close to feeding time, as if we’d forget to give our pets their dinner.
7. Zooming Around the House
It never fails to make us laugh when one of our cats takes off zooming around the house, sometimes bouncing off the walls. Yowling or other sounds often accompany it. And it doesn’t matter to your pet if it’s during the afternoon or in the middle of the night; it’s typically a sign of your kitty just entertaining itself with imaginary monsters chasing them.
Most cat owners encounter this behavior at some point, whether it’s your sofa or the living room curtains. Felines scratch instinctively to mark their territories. It serves an excellent purpose by leaving a visual sign of their presence. Clawing a tree is far less risky than fighting with another animal. The stretch that accompanies it may just feel good to them.
9. Covering Their Food
Caching food is a typical behavior throughout the animal kingdom. It’s one way to protect the food so they can return later to finish the meal. It’s also instinctive in pets, whether or not it’s necessary. Instinct rules when watching your cat cover its food bowl, even if it’s not hiding it with anything. Your cat is just going through the motions.
10. Easily Startled
Cat breeds vary in their degree of fearfulness. Research has shown that the Russian Blue is the most fearful among the analyzed breeds.2 It makes sense for a feline to be aware of its world and notice new things in it. Mistaking a harmless rock for a predator is vastly different than passing off a sleeping wolf as nothing. You’ll often see this behavior if you’ve moved or have brought a new pet home.
11. Hiding in Boxes
You’ve probably noticed this behavior if you’ve left a box on the floor after emptying it. As soon as your pet sees it, inside they go. Cats like boxes for the sense of security they offer. They can see an approaching threat with the safety of the walls around it. Sitting inside one can relieve stress since the animal can let down its guard, seemingly protected from danger.
12. Jumping onto Bookcases & Other High Places
Their unique anatomy gives felines the ability to jump six times their length. They also put it to use, springing up to 6 feet high to get on top of bookcases, shelves, and any other elevated spot. It’s not hard to figure out why. It gives them a better view of a room. The vantage point can help them find prey or see potential threats. Cats may also like having another place to go to sleep.
13. Gifting Rodents
Perhaps one of the strangest cat behaviors we’ve seen first-hand is the gifting of rodents and other unfortunate animals. Scientists speculate it may indeed be an offering to you as your pet’s owner. You feed them, and your cat wants to return the favor. Others suggest it may be less altruistic and more selfish with your kitty bringing something home to eat in a safe place to enjoy its prize.
14. Going Under Blankets
You’ve probably observed your cats going under the covers for their afternoon nap. We suspect they like the sense of security of being hidden. It probably feels safe with your scent all around them. Plus, the warmth undoubtedly has to feel good, especially on cold winter days.
It’s a curious thing in the feline world that either an animal roars or purrs. It can’t do both because of the varying skeletal structures needed to do one or the other. Interestingly, bobcats and cougars can also purr like your pet. It’s typically the sign of a happy cat when your kitty does it. Some also make this sound if they are stressed, perhaps to calm themselves.
16. Sleeping on Your Clothes
We tend to think of dogs as the super sniffers of the animal kingdom. However, research shows there’s another kid on the block—the cat. Felines live in a world of different scents, making their sense of smell critical to their survival. Your pet likely associates your scent with safety and comfort. It’s unsurprising that it would choose to curl up on your clothes to feel secure and close to you.
17. Rolling Around the Floor
Cats are expressive when it comes to emotions on both ends of the spectrum. They get their message across loud and clear when they’re upset. Likewise, they do the same when they’re happy. A content pet may roll around the floor, contorting their long body and exposing their belly. The latter is why you know it’s a good thing. A fearful animal won’t show its underside to someone it doesn’t like or if it is unhappy.
Hunters may have taken a lesson from cats to lure prey closer to them. It sounds like a reasonable explanation, except when you consider how felines find prey. They’re typically silent, suggesting that this behavior has different meanings. It could be sheer excitement at the thrill of vulnerable prey, most often birds, nearby. Some hypothesize it’s frustration with something so close yet so far away.
19. Head Butts
Head butting or bunting is a feline sign of affection. Your kitty wants your attention and is going to make sure you know it with this exaggerated gesture. Your cat is also likely marking you in yet another way of claiming you as its own. Scent marking reinforces the bond they have with you. A head butt could be a full-blown rub against you or simply a bowed head.
20. Inappropriate Elimination
Cats are usually fastidious about using a litter box. They prefer to use one place. However, your pet may go somewhere it’s not supposed to if you neglect to clean the box. Some animals won’t use one if you use a strongly scented litter. If you have an older pet, it might be a sign of a urinary tract infection. Stones may make it difficult for cats to pass urine. We suggest discussing these issues with your vet.
21. Sleeping All the Time
Cats sleep a lot. They can snooze for up to 16 hours or more daily. However, they usually split it up in several sessions throughout the day. Interestingly, our felines often adjust their sleeping habits to fit the activity of the household. They learn when mealtimes occur and the routine it involves. Wild cats are usually crepuscular or nocturnal to match the times their prey is active.
22. Different Sounds
Scientists have identified at least 21 different vocalizations that cats make. Undoubtedly, you’ve noticed the different sounds your pet makes at certain times. It is often easy to read your kitty’s emotions. It’s not rocket science to figure out when they’re angry by their hissing or content when they purr. Felines use vocal and non-vocal communication with you and other animals.
23. Tail Body Language
Cats express several emotions with their tails. If your pet holds it straight up, the chances are your kitty is in a good mood. The opposite is the case if a cat puffs out its tail. Trouble is afoot because the animal feels threatened. Another sign your pet is annoyed is a slapping tail. Cats use it as a warning to another feline or human that is pushing the envelope.
24. Love Bites
All cat owners probably can relate to this behavior. Perhaps you’re sitting on the couch with your pet, stroking them gently. Suddenly, they bite you, seemingly without reason. It doesn’t necessarily mean your cat is angry. Instead, they’re reached their limit of patience. Felines prefer short bursts of frequent affection rather than a long, drawn-out session.
25. Blinking at You
Research has shown our cats seek our attention even more than food in some cases. They aren’t the standoffish animals many think they are. Felines also show their affection for their caregivers. One of the most noticeable is the slow blink. It involves narrowing the eyes and blinking or closing them. Cats often will return this gesture to their owners. Our pets genuinely love us and willingly show it.
Some cat behaviors may seem strange to us, but they often have a reason steeped in instinct. Even though we’ve lived with our feline companions for thousands of years, they retain the innate responses to environmental stimuli that allowed them to survive through the ages. They may not seem useful or needed, but cats do them, nevertheless. After all, our pets will do as they please, no matter what we say.
Featured Image Credit: Andriy Blokhin, Shutterstock